Linda Woolverton

Maleficent

Did you walk out of the theater after taking in Disney’s latest mega-hit, the villain-centric Maleficent, feeling just a bit uncomfortable? Perhaps because the PG-rated “family” film is, in no uncertain terms, a story about rape, abuse and what happens to victims of crimes rooted in power, control and sexual politics? The Angelina Jolie-starring film is all about humanizing her eponymous heroine – a powerful fairy who loses both her gentle spirit and her (emotionally and physically important) wings after someone she trusts and loves (Sharlto Copley, whose bonkers-bad performance should be discussed at length another time) cuts them off. In the middle of the night. After he’s lulled her with sweet words. And drugged her. If the subtext isn’t clear enough in the initial act, the aftermath of it drives it home spectacularly (and quite devastatingly), as Jolie’s Maleficent wakes to find her wings gone, realizes what has happened and reacts in a way that’s akin to mourning. Even removed from the situation, it’s a very upsetting sequence, one that seems out of place in an ostensibly family-friendly film. Really, though, what’s most out of place in Maleficent is the entire subplot that leads to that wrenching moment (the most emotionally interesting one in an otherwise muddled and choppy feature), and although reading it as something different (or at least something not so jarringly un-Disney) is possible, it’s also wrong. Says who? Jolie.

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In Disney’s 1959 Sleeping Beauty, the evil Maleficent has less than 15 minutes of screen time, making the character’s decade-lasting infamy and the initial interest in a feature-length film of her re-imaging, Maleficent, notably impressive. Of course, the same could be said for the Evil Queen of Disney’s 1937 Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, who’s gotten two recent chances to re-captivate  audiences with Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman. Judging by Maleficent‘s opening weekend domestic box office numbers, this serpentine queen is number one in fans’ cold dead hearts. Anyone who remembers Maleficent’s fifteen minutes of fame in Sleeping Beauty already knows that Maleficent writer Linda Woolverton took enormous leaps in filling the expansive gaps in Maleficent’s history. However the same can be argued for the writers of Sleeping Beauty as well. The original Disney film was based on both the original fairy tale “La Belle au Bois Dormant (The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood)” by Charles Perrault and the later “Little Briar Rose” by the Brothers Grimm – neither of which had much to say in the characterization of the once nameless and now legendary villain. So how did Maleficent change over time? We did the reading, so you don’t have to.

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Walt Disney Pictures

A quick re-watch for anyone with a hazy memory of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty reveals that the 1959 film has a lot of problems – just one of which being the complete apparent lack of motivation for its catalytic villain, Maleficent. She sort of just shows up at the princess’ christening and casts the infamous “sleep like death” spell. She’s barely even in the Disney movie, really. For screenwriter Linda Woolverton, this leaves a nearly blank canvas with which to re-imagine the character’s story. For director Robert Stromberg, this is an opportunity to create an entire magical world as the setting for said tale. Yes – Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent is also technically based on the classic fairy tales, but the story told in Maleficent seems exclusively tailored to the Disney character. Opening the film with a re-imagining of Maleficent’s past, her story is told like a connect-the-dots puzzle where each dot represents one of her physical traits: here’s why she walks with a staff, this is what’s up with her and that crow, it’s time to talk about that headpiece, etc. It’s in between these style landmarks that Maleficent’s new truth is revealed.

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Alice in Wonderland 2010 Movie

According to Variety, Disney has hired Linda Woolverton, a seasoned blockbuster screenwriter, to get cracking on a sequel to the monster hit Alice in Wonderland. The writer has a history with the studio — writing Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King among others — and her work has gone on to earn towering amounts of money so the appeal is pretty clear on the business end. Not to mention the financial no-brainer of continuing this franchise. But what about the artistic side? Woolverton is an excellent writer, but as we saw with Alice in Wonderland, her work can also be turned into a drippy mess of unnecessary bizarreness that hoists visuals (and poorly CGI-ed dance moves) so far above story that it gets downright embarrassing. That’s not the only obstacle to quality with Alice in Wonderland 2 either. There are at least three that jump to mind. The urge to copy the model of the first unfortunate film. The element of new territory now that they’ve already covered a lot of Lewis Carroll‘s original work with “Adventures” and “Through the Looking Glass.” There are still other tales, like the Caucus Race to cover, and the 2010 film strayed from the books considerably, but it’ll be curious to see whether they stick mostly with the other film’s characters (Johnny Depp for sure) or go Return to Oz style, trying to introduce or create new ones. That’s a challenge without the safety net of Carroll’s work to guide them. They’re leaving the safe harbor where fans can […]

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Anglina Jolie Maleficent

Production on Maleficent started on June 13th, and the movie won’t be in theaters until March 14th of (wait for it) 2014, but Disney has already released a teaser image of star Angelina Jolie as the iconic, evil witch queen who really hates Sleeping Beauty. To be fair, without Maleficent, the fair-haired heroine would just be called “Beauty,” and that name was already taken, so she probably wouldn’t have a cool nickname at all. Credit has to be given to Gregory Maguire’s “Wicked” for birthing a modern fascination with the villain’s side of the story (but mad respect to the old school “Grendel”), and the Robert Stromberg-directed fairy tale promises just that for Jolie. Although this will be the directorial debut for the veteran effects designer, the writing team features both Paul Dini and Linda Woolverton, so there’s a lot to be hopeful for. Plus, the cast also includes Elle Fanning, Juno Temple, Sharlto Copley and a ton of other solid names. Clicking on the image makes it largified. [Disney]

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When I first saw the Hollywood Reporter piece on Melissa Rosenberg surpassing Linda Woolverton (The Lion King, Alice in Wonderland) as the highest-grossing female screenwriter, it took me a while to wrap my mind around it. After all, it’s the kind of statistic that only a baseball fan could love. It doesn’t take into account the thousands of other people and factors that go into making a film a world-wide financial smash, giving credit solely to the writer (and only if that writer has official credit on the movie). On the other hand, it’s the kind of fact that feels significant. That tells us a bit about the world we live in. Maybe in a way that upsets us. At its barest, it reveals that the female movie writer responsible for banking the most money did it mostly through the Twilight series – Step Up is the only non-Twilight property she’s credited for outside of her lengthy television resume. It also means she did it mostly through means of a book adaptation. After Breaking Dawn Part 1 topped $647m, her total landed at just over $2.56b.

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